We can't choose to stop eating sugar

Amy Leech - 13 January 2014

Chocolate cakeI've tried and failed to stop eating sugar on and off for years, so I watched news that health experts have turned their attention to reducing the amount of added-sugar we eat with interest.

The launch of the Action on Sugar campaign last week had everybody up in arms. The public health community cheered from the side lines. The food industry pointed fingers, rallying in defence of their very responsible labelling. Some people were angry, how dare these doctors tell me how to take my tea?

We don't like being told what to do. We're happy, and are led, to think that the food we eat is our responsibility, our choice. This simply isn't true. Our decisions are made for us before we make them. The majority of us rarely choose things that aren't made easily available to us and find it hard to avoid those that are - particularly if they are cheap and tasty!

The truth is we don't have the freedom to choose an added-sugar-free diet, the stuff is unavoidable. Forget fizzy drinks - yoghurts, salad dressings, dips, cereals, bread, sushi, sauces, baked beans and crisps all have unnecessary amounts of added-sugar them. Of course they do, we like sweet things; it keeps us coming back for more.

Believe me, I'm not about to give up the occasional chocolate brownie for love or money, but the odd delicious treat isn't the problem.

The problem is the terrifying rise in diet-related deaths, disease and ill-health plaguing our population. The problem is that our daily diet of sweet treats, on top of sweetened savouries, on top of naturally occurring sugars in things like fruit and veg means we are eating and drinking too much sugar. Thankfully this is a trend we can choose to reverse, but only if the routine consumption of food and ingredients that are bad for us become genuinely avoidable and unacceptable.

Action on sugar is timely and much needed campaign which has rightly turned our attention to the need to cut the amount of added-sugar in food, and the role and responsibility of manufacturers and retailers who sell food for profit and decide what we are free to choose from.

But, if health experts are to be taken seriously by the food industry they aim to influence, they'll need to lead by example and get their own house in order. I look forward to the day when the foyers of hospitals and waiting rooms don't normalise food that would make Hansel and Gretel feel at home, and when training is introduced for all doctors in the complexities and importance of a good diet as the foundation and first principle of good health and the prevention of disease, to equip them to ask the right questions of patients and give them the best possible advice.

It's going to take more than sugar-free breadcrumbs to get us out of the woods, but Action on Sugar is a welcome leap in the right direction.

Amy is Senior Policy Officer at the Soil Association.

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Comments



Chris Fenn Nutritionist
18 March 2014 09:43

It is good to focus on cutting sugar and wouldn't it be great if the Government took a stronger stand to support this, but there is too much food politics in the way! Unlike in Finland, who have made incredible progress in changing food habits and the health of their population has improved greatly as a result. There are many factors which affect health, but the choice of processed, sugar laden, "food" rather than good quality produce as close as possible to its natural state is right up there. Just a matter of the Government using subsidies to make the expensive, unprocessed, foods more affordable - but that is another issue. Keep up the good work Amy.

Charles
10 March 2014 15:38

I don't understand this article at all ! ? .. WHY can't we "choose to stop eating sugar" ? ... I don't eat ANYTHING with added refines sugar .. It's not THAT hard ! ? .. Sugar is not actually a "food" it is more an addictive and dangerous DRUG! I am frankly AMAZED that a presumably intelligent informed Soil Association person would think like this ?

Sue
30 January 2014 20:57

Corned beef isn't the healthiest of foods, but I used to enjoy a corned beef hash now and again. However, now they've started to put sugar in corned beef (I can't find a brand without it), it tastes horrible and I no longer buy it. I guess this is because they reduced the salt content, but sugar changes the flavour completely, as well as being bad for you.

Tara McFarlane
22 January 2014 02:12

I read this article with great interest as I have been very low carb and sugar free for 6 months now. I had been very low carb and sugar free for a couple of years, but then sugar crept back in, and the inevitable health problems resurfaced with vengeance! What helped me get back on track again was a book by a NZ Author called "Eat till you're Full, and Stop gaining weight" by Dr Tannis Laidlaw. She has done the research and written her book in a way which is easy to read, but packed full of information. It's worth a look if you are serious about cutting the carbs.

Bob
21 January 2014 16:29

Getting the message across to the people who already lack food discipline will be the biggest battle our society has to make. Educating people about food and the importance of local fresh organic produce will build foundations for better nutrition for all. It's not just about the sugar.

Julie Shore
21 January 2014 15:59

The only worrying thing is that the manufacturers may replace table sugar with artificial sweeteners. These contain chemicals that could be harmful over a period of time. It is also interesting that many of the bodies set up to research and make recommendations contain members whose research is funded by food companies with a vested interest in keeping us all addicted to sugar.

Eileen Brown
21 January 2014 13:21

About 2 years ago I decided to eliminate all sugar from my diet. I've lost 4 stone and feel very much better. When I want something sweet I eat some dates. I would recommend it to anyone.

Natalie Yates
21 January 2014 11:15

Great article. I gave up sugar a year ago (along with wheat and dairy) by committing to eat unprocessed food. I quickly dropped a stone in weight and a dress size - even though I wasn't particularly overweight. It was a total revelation after years of yo-yo dieting like most women. Over the last year I have been disgusted at the hidden sugar in food - and not just in sweet items. Meatballs, hummus, seasoning and stew packets. So many people are completely unaware that it is there and of the damage it is doing. It's a total travesty. It's fantastic that Action on Sugar is raising awareness.

Kate
21 January 2014 11:14

You should get in touch with Dr Malholtra, if you haven't already who has written for the Bmj about sugar in hospital food and how the NHS needs a culture change. Voices from within are always strongest!

robertz
14 January 2014 21:22

I'd always taken sugar in tea, but 18 months ago decided to give up. I weighed a spoonful of sugar, multiplied it by the number of cups of tea I have daily and then by the days in the year. I worked out I would reduce my sugar consumption by 10Kg a year. I have not added sugar to my tea since.Over the past 20 years we have moved to making almost all our meals from scratch, which reduces a lot of unnecessary sugar. We still have treats, but enjoy them without worry. And our meals at home are often tastier than eating out.

Marian Hood
13 January 2014 16:00

I have managed to eliminate 99.9% of added sugar from my diet. It isn't as difficult as one might imagine, its just a matter if adjustment. I've also excluded all grains, which the body converts to sugar during the digestive process. I make all our food with natural unprocessed ingredients, which also happen to be organic or home grown. Now the only sugars I ingest are those in fruit and veg (I don't use milk anymore either). And the occasional glass of wine!

Cecilia
13 January 2014 12:08

Well said Amy! Consumers deserve the right to choose how much sugar to eat in a more friendly way. Hopefully, Action for Sugar will give us more sugar free choices in convenient products such as salad dressings , sauces, etc.

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